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Archive for Volleyball Coaching Log

Coaching Log – July 21, 2017

This is the first entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks!

Player stuff

Most of the team is in town at this point. Some are taking Summer classes and some are working. They are all working out with our Strength Coach to a greater or lesser degree depending on their schedule. We’re trying to get their Fall schedules set up so we can nail down reasonable practice times, but it isn’t easy.

Actually, it’s not just about practices. It’s also about keeping them away from situations where they will miss a lot of classes. For example, we play six Tuesday evening matches. That means anyone taking a Tuesday evening class will miss about half the sessions. In some cases, that may be fine. In others, though, it presents a major problem.

Oh, and we’ve already had a couple of the freshmen get into trouble. They were late for a workout session with our Strength Coach. That got them locked out of the weight room and given punishment exercises. I suppose it’s better to get that kind of thing out of the way now rather than later!

Scheduling

This week we finally nailed down our Fall schedule. We thought we finished that months ago, but a tournament we’d committed to attending fell apart. After weeks of trying to figure something out, an opening developed that we filled. There may still be a couple of match time changes. At least we know all our dates and opponents, though.

The first tournament we will play in features two teams ranked in the Top 25 last year. The other two teams we play were not that strong, but overall it should make for a very competitive event. The one drawback is that while one of the strong teams we play is in our NCAA region, the rest are not. We try to schedule Regional teams because they impact our region ranking. That factors into NCAA tournament selection. In Division II the first three rounds of the championship tournament are regional brackets. The winners of the 8 regions then advance to the national quarterfinals.

Our second tournament will not be nearly so strong. The host is a team from our region we played last year – and lost two disappointingly in our home tournament. One of the other teams finished low in the standings of one of the other conferences in our tournament. The remaining team, though, is one that was not very strong in a conference outside our region.

The third week of the season we start our conference schedule, but we added in a non-conference match on the first day. It’s against the team that was #5 in the rankings at the end of 2016. They aren’t a region team, but we’re happy to play someone that strong. Two of the teams from our conference were Top 25 last year as well, so all together that makes 5 teams on the 2017 schedule against top-ranked programs from last season.

We have three other non-conference matches scattered through the rest of the season. They are all regional competition.

Speaker event

As I write this, one week from tomorrow we will have 5-time Olympian Danielle Scott speaking on campus at a fundraising event. That’s mean we’ve been working hard on selling tables and finding people to fill the ones we’ve gotten sponsored. It also means organizing the facilities requirements, the catering, and lots of other details.

Buenos Aires planning

The clock is counting down fast!

We start pre-season – technically pre-trip – training on July 31st. We are allowed 10 days of practice before we go. Our departure date is August 12th, so we’ll have two days off. One of them will be the day we host a big event for the local high school teams to kick-off their new season. We’ll mix in one more along the way.

Because players will still be taking Summer classes, and there are still basketball camps going on, we have to schedule practices around things. It’s not too onerous, though.

For the trip itself I think we have all the back-end stuff worked out. One contract awaits signature. Aside from that, the big thing left is finalizing the schedule in terms of who and when we play, and what we do when we’re not doing volleyball stuff.

Coaching Log – July 7, 2017

This is the first entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

Anyone who thinks college volleyball coaches have Summers off has no idea! This is a particularly intense off-season for me. I’m the lead on all the stuff for the Argentina trip. On top of that, the head coach has mostly been out of pocket the last few weeks. First she was off getting married. Then last week she was running our camps. Now she is away for her honeymoon.

Let’s just say it’s been an intense period.

Here’s what’s been going on.

Recruiting

Not a lot going on here in terms of active recruiting. We are, of course, getting a steady stream of prospect emails to evaluate. We’re just not doing anything off-campus at this stage. We have offers out to four 2018 prospects. One was recently accepted, so the Class of 2022 is already starting to form! Hopefully, we’ll get more commitments in the weeks ahead.

Freshman stuff

There’s always a bunch of stuff for incoming freshmen – and transfers – to do. They have to make sure everything is submitted to the NCAA Eligibility Center. There is Orientation to attend and class registration to do. In our case, most of them will take Summer II classes as a jump start. Doing so gets them on campus early and allows them to work with our strength coach. That’s alongside the other players who are in the area over the Summer, helping them integrate.

Buenos Aires planning

This has been a huge source of stress and sleepless nights!

The biggest issue is that we’ve had to rapidly accelerate our fundraising efforts because of organizational bureaucratic requirements. We thought we had some time, but in order to get the official travel authorization we have to show sufficient funds in our account. That’s meant a scramble to get that lined up in a matter of days rather than weeks. It will happen, but not without some contortions.

We’ve also been trying to work through a contract thing with Boca Juniors, who will host us for our practice sessions. They sent us a contract to sign, which I did. The university, however, needs Boca to sign an addendum. Unfortunately, the people at the club with the authority to sign that addendum are not present, and won’t be until July 16th. Reaching the point of understanding the delay on their end was crazy. Our contact planning things for us is currently on vacation in Europe, so he’s been long-distance middle man. It took having a Spanish speaker here talk to someone at Boca to finally understand what is holding things up.

Of course the organization of things in Buenos Aires isn’t all that is going on. Travel preparations are underway. That means things like passports and immunizations and getting the ticketing done. Plenty of details to finalize on our end as well.

Speaking Event

I mentioned in my last entry that we arranged for 5-time Olympian Danielle Scott to come speak on campus. Here is the graphic we had developed.

That was meant to be a major part of our fundraising efforts, but now it’s looking less important from that perspective. Not that we don’t plan on raising money from it. We definitely do. It’s just that the accelerated fundraising need I mentioned before takes some of that pressure of this event. We can now angle it to be at least as much about community engagement.

As you can see, it’s only a few weeks until the event. That means on top of all the stuff for the Buenos Aires trip, I have organization of this to do as well. We’re doing the event in our coliseum, so I’ve had to arrange for that to be set up. We need food, which means catering. Of course we need bodies to fill all the seats. We’re aiming for 300+, so this is no small production.

Other stuff

We found out as we started our camp that the lines for the courts in our main gym were re-done a little off. The main central court is fine, but we have a 2-court configuration we use for practice and when we’re running tournaments. The court ended up about 2 inches too wide. The folks who redid the floor seem to have used the marker as the inside edge of the sideline rather than the outside edge. Ooops!

I’m not sure if that can be repaired straight away or if we’re just going to have to use tape until it can get fixed later.

Improving team communication through acknowledgement

One of my early influences when I became serious about coaching volleyball was Mike Hebert. I read his books, The Fire Still Burns and Insights when I was coaching for Dean College. I coached against him once when I was at Brown and he was at Minnesota. His most recent book, Thinking Volleyball, is one I strongly recommend.

Mike authored a post for the Art of Coaching Blog. It’s focus is on the subject of acknowledgement. Basically, the rule was an individual must always indicate they heard something said to them. That applied to both something said by a coach and things said by other players. Mike developed a rule about this for his teams based on an experience with a player who didn’t show she’d heard what he was saying to her.

I think we’ve all been there. It’s really frustrating, isn’t it?

Of course, it’s not just a question of showing you heard something said to you. There’s more nuance. Mike had a set of acknowledgement rules to encourage constructive communication. Here they are in an edited fashion.

  1. When spoken to by a coach or teammate, acknowledge to the speaker that you heard and understood them – without emotion.
  2. You can make your acknowledgement verbally or by gesture, but it must convey that you heard.
  3. Keep in mind, acknowledgement does not necessarily mean agreement.
  4. Develop an acknowledgement style that invites further communication.
  5. Respond every time a coach gives you feedback or instruction.
  6. When a teammate communicates something in the heat of battle that offends you momentarily, acknowledge in a non-inflammatory manner.

As you can see, Mike went beyond simply showing that you heard. He also addressed how you indicate. You do not get emotional, and possibly inflame a situation. You try to demonstrate a willingness to communicate.

Importantly, as Mike says, acknowledgement does not have to mean agreement. You can acknowledge and still disagree. In doing so, you demonstrate respect for the other person and do not appear to be dismissive. This can foster more positive communication and lead to better team cohesion.

Coaching Log – June 12, 2017

This is the first entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season. The log is something I started doing back in 2013. It was part of the requirements for my Volleyball England Level 3 certification, and I’ve kept it up ever since. I like how keeping the log allows me to put into words the stuff I’m thinking about over the course of the year. Hopefully, it’s also something useful for readers. Maybe you can gain some insights into coaching at the NCAA Division II level – or just college coaching in general.

New-look court

First thing I should say is the floor of our gym has been redone.

While it certainly looks sharp, and the new central logo is and improvement over the last, I can’t help be disappointed at how basketball clearly dominates volleyball. Same old story, eh?

The assistant women’s basketball coach actually asked me at one point what it would take to make our secondary gym the main one for volleyball. It’s an interesting idea, but not realistic, unfortunately. It lacks the proper dimensions for us to run two full courts for practice – or competition. Just not enough service area when we go with two. Ceiling is too low as well.

Anyway, on with the real stuff.

The team

Just last week we finalized our 2017 roster. After Spring semester grades came out we had to let one player go, one of our liberos from last season. She just wasn’t keeping to the academic standards required. Another player was unsure if she was going to continue because of concerns about the time commitment. Last week she confirmed she’s going to stick it out.

We also had a big addition. I mean that literally and figuratively.

We spent a lot of time during the Spring trying to find an experienced right side player. We have a freshman lefty coming in, but she’s returning from an ACL injury suffered last Summer. As a result, we can’t know for sure what she’s going to bring to the table. One of last year’s starting OHs can play on the right. Our other starting OH is a big question mark because of injury issues, though, and behind them will be a sophomore and a couple incoming freshmen. So we wanted to add another attacking option. Ideally, that would be a MB/OPP type player as we only have three middles on the books. We did look at some OHs as well, however.

What we ended up with is a 6’4″ lefty OPP who played MB in high school. She’s an interesting story. She’s a local who was recruited to a Division I school in Florida. Things didn’t work out for her, though. She was a medical red shirt as a freshman, then barely played as a sophomore. That was the 2015 season. She left school after that year and came back to town. She decided in the Spring to attend MSU, and we found out through the volleyball grapevine. You don’t get 6’4″ lefties walking through the door everyday, so we jumped at the chance to bring her into the team.

It wasn’t easy, though. She had some serious doubts. Seems like her prior college experience left her feeling less than enthusiastic about combining athletics and academics. We really had to demonstrate how much we are committed to our players doing well in their classes and how we’d support her in doing so. Apparently, we did a good job of it!

Of course, she hasn’t played any meaningful volleyball in a while. On top of that, she can’t start training with us a week in because of a previously scheduled family trip. That means she may take a while to get where she’s fully contributing. Still, you can’t teach size. Just having her block to go against in practice can’t help but make our hitters better.

So the final roster count for the new season is 17, up a couple from last year. We’ll have 9 returning players, 3 transfers, and 5 freshmen.

Recruiting

We haven’t done any additional recruiting trips. Right now we have some offers out to 2018 prospects. We’ll see how that falls out in the weeks to come.

Buenos Aires planning

It’s been a very active few weeks setting things up for the trip to Argentina. Lots of details to sort out, like passports and immunizations. I’ve been in regular contact with the guy in B.A. making the arrangements. Most of it is settled, but we have to wait a bit longer to finalize our competition schedule. We can’t do that until the Argentine club’s get their league schedules, which is probably in July. Right now we’re looking at playing maybe three of them. We could also play some U19 national team competition as well.

Of course I’ll provide the full rundown once everything is settled.

Fundraising and other support

The fundraising effort for the trip is ongoing. Last week we confirmed a speaking event for July 29th. The speaker is going to be 5-time Olympian Danielle Scott. Now we must sort out all the logistics and generate the revenue. In the latter case, that means selling tables and trying to get donations and/or sponsors to underwrite the cost. We hope to net $15-$20k.

We also have permission to run a raffle. The planned prize will be a sizeable travel voucher. The original thought was to raffle off places on our trip, but the time frame is too short. Instead, it will just be a general gift certificate for use whenever. We will probably do the drawing our first home weekend, so there’s time to sell tickets once school starts. That means at least some of the money comes in after the trip, but that’s fine. A lot of the payments will be by credit card anyway.

Then there’s the direct donations. We’ve received several thousand that way, most of which has been matched through our Development office. We also raised a bit through our May clinic series.

The head coach and I met with our VP of student affairs, who’s looking into ways we can get some on-campus support. We can’t plan on a great deal given the news of recent budget cuts, but every bit helps. We also talked about the team and the trip at a local Rotary Club meeting last week.

Other fun stuff

College coaching isn’t all glamorous stuff like planning trips and raising money. We also get to do things like clean out closets and organize our office. It’s amazing how much junk can accumulate over time. There was a department inventory last week. In preparing for it we found out we have four old cameras, only one of which is actually part of the inventory!

Coaching Log – May 8, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Classes are now over. The players are going through finals this week, then the 2016-17 school year will be over. We did not do any direct work with the team last week as that is not allowed under NCAA rules. That doesn’t mean we weren’t busy, though!

The head coach finally came back to work in limited fashion last week. Her doctor gave her a partial clearance. No physical work, but she can at least now spend time on campus. Good timing since by the time you read this I may have already left for my trip.

Recruiting

We had a couple of recruit visits during the week. Unfortunately, with the team done for the semester, they could not workout with the players. As a result, these were basically campus and facilities tours and meet with the coach type visits.

I also did my final off-campus recruiting trip on Saturday to the North Texas regional Junior Nationals bid tournament. Mainly it was getting one last look at players this club season, though there were a couple new ones on the list.

Fund-raising

The biggest thing I did last week was fund-raising work for our Argentina trip. I attended the weekly meeting of the a local Rotary Club as a precursor to speaking with them in a few weeks about what we’re doing. I also connected with the city’s mayor to see if we could enlist his help. He had the idea to do a speaker-based event. That got us thinking about who from the volleyball community has a high enough profile or credential to not just attract volleyball people, but non-volleyball folks as well.

We also started our month-long clinic series. It runs three evenings per week for four weeks. While that is open to kids from latter elementary school through high school, we find that it draws mainly middle school aged players. The revenue will go toward the trip fund-raising. I don’t think we’ve so far had much cross-over to the paid clinic from the free one we did that I mentioned in my last update, but that’s not a major surprise.

That’s it for 2016-17!

Since the 2016-17 school year is now over, this is the last of my log entries for this year. When I return from Europe, I’ll start a new log for 2017-18.

Coaching Log – May 1, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

This was the final week we could do physical activity with the team. After finishing our five weeks of the non-traditional season, we were back to 8 hours. That mainly meant the players finishing up their strength and conditioning work. This was in the form of testing.

Strength & Conditioning final testing

On Monday they did standing vertical jump reach, and then shifted over to doing power cleans. Interestingly, gains on jump reach were limited. Our strength coach attributed that to how they were looking up while jumping. He thought that limited their reach. On the plus side, though, it looked like basically all the players made personal bests on the power cleans. It was fun to watch the players surprise themselves (at times) and cheer each other on.

On Wednesday they did more jump testing. This time it was broad jump. They then shifted to back squats max testing. I believe our top lifter – a Junior middle – did 250lbs. Thursday morning they wrapped up the testing with approach jumps.

Final practice

Our last practice of the 2016-17 year was 100% games. We had a recruit to mix in to make it 10 players. It started with Brazilian 2-ball volley tennis. After that, we played about 8 minutes of Winners back row 3s. From there we transitioned to narrow court Speedball 3s (fixed setters, teams of 2). Then it was on to 5 v 5. First was alternating 5-point games of 3-up/2-back and 2-up/3-back. We finished with a straight game to 25. Interestingly, both teams opted to play 2-up/3-back.

The whole session was about 90 minutes. Intensity was at a pretty good level. There might have been some lapses in focus, as you’d expect this point in the cycle, but generally the level of play was pretty high.

Administration

The players also had some administrative work to do on the week. All returning players had to complete some online paperwork and have exit physicals. We also had to hand out sheets for them to fill out related to random drug testing. The players must provide the Training staff with their Summer whereabouts. This is so testers can find them, if selected. It’s a pretty intense thing. If a player isn’t where they reported, and thus miss a test, that counts as a fail and means the loss of a year of eligibility. I don’t know what the odds are of volleyball players getting selected for testing (probably low), but the loss of eligibility is a big motivator. On top of that, there was another form related to doing workouts on campus over the Summer.

Of course we continue to work on fund raising and organization for the Argentina trip. We’re down to one more possible team addition for 2017 from a transfer perspective. So that’s still a work in progress. We’ve made our first couple of offers to 2018 recruits and no doubt more will shortly follow.

Radio interview

Late on Friday one of our Sports Information guys came into the office and told me I’d be doing a radio interview on Saturday morning. It was for the local ESPN Radio affiliate in Wichita Falls. This was something that came about after an article about the trip was posted on the MSU website. They do an MSU sports update. My interview was on the back of that.

It wasn’t my first interview, though I hadn’t done one in a while. It went pretty well, I think. We talked about the motivation for the trip and why we opted for Argentina. Of course we also pitched the sponsorship and fund-raising needs.

Free Clinic

On Sunday we ran the first of three free clinics for area kids grades 3 to 6. This is part of the outreach project our Graduate Assistant is doing to fulfill his CAP III requirements. He went around to all the area elementary schools and gave out flyers. We ended up with 35+ kids, which was a bit more than he actually anticipated. 🙂

We’re hoping these kids will eventually take part in our paid clinics and camps, and become part of our Ponies in Training program (our mascot is a Mustang).

Coaching Log – April 24, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

This was the last week of our non-traditional season. That means our last week where we could put in a total of 20 hours. Unfortunately, that was cut a bit because we had the annual year-end sports banquet on Wednesday when we would otherwise have had team practice.

The major development influencing things was the birth of the head coach’s baby late the prior week. Unfortunately, a c-section was required. That means very light duty while she recovers from the procedure. Fortunately, it’s a part of year when the time out of the office doesn’t hurt much. She’ll have plenty of time to get back up to full speed ahead of pre-season.

Still, that means I had to handle the on-campus stuff – coaching and administration. One of those duties was doing a recording for the sports banquet. Sports Information needed me to talk about our nominee for one of the awards. I thought it was just an audio recording, but not so much! They videoed me after a morning beach practice. I had a zip hoodie on. Very stylish! A friend told me I was like Patriots football coach Bill Belichick. 🙂

Not everything is so glamorous, of course. I also had to chase players up about grade checks and doing their year-end physicals. There’s stuff for Argentina planning as well, and getting incoming players sorted out.

Training

Monday’s team practice included a pair of recruits visiting campus. The session was almost completely game play. We wanted to continue the focus on playing the seams, defensive tenacity, playing around the block, and the block being stable.

I had them start out with Brazilian 2-ball as a fun (explained here), competitive warm-up. We haven’t played that in a while. From there it was a progression of small-sided games, ending in 6 v 6. It started with Winners Back Court 3s. From there we shifted to Speedball 3s with the three setters in their own rotation, and everyone else in four teams of two. I opted for narrow court (about 2/3rds) to increase rallies, but to still require defenders to play around the block.

After that we shifted to Winners 4s. This was also narrow court, though a little bigger than the prior game. We made it small enough that two players could just about block the width of the net. The two back court players then worked on playing around the block and in the seams.

Practice finished with 6s. I set it up with one setter playing back row on one side. One of the others set front row on the other side, with the third playing defense in Position 1. We had three pin hitters, plus a DS that we sometimes use as a hitter in training. They split time in two OH positions an one OPP. We played several short games (mainly to 9) so I could flip the hitters and setters and round, and let the DS’s switch between 5 and 6.

Tuesday’s sand sessions followed our regular pattern. That meant a lot of ball-handling, especially in terms of shot control. In support of our indoor focus, we also concentrated a lot of defensive reading. It’s been fun watching the players improve on the sand. When we started, they really struggled just to put the ball in the court when attacking or serving. Now we’re seeing some really challenging serves, legit hard swings, and lots of smart shots. Importantly, that stuff has also carried over into their indoor play, which is the whole point.

Thursday they played their last day of doubles competition in round-robin fashion. Friday was out final indoor team session of the 5-week period. It followed a similar pattern to Monday’s, though with fewer bodies. That mandated 5 v 5 play rather than 6 v 6.

Banquet

The annual sports banquet was about what you’d expect. These events have a pretty standard pattern. We didn’t have anyone win one of the two primary awards, but had several players earn academic recognition. It was actually interesting. Three of our players made Dean’s List (3.50-3.74 GPA on a 4.0 scale), one was Provost’s Honor Roll (3.75-3.99), and three more were President’s Honor Roll (4.0). That’s nearly half the team!

Coaching Log – April 17, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

This, the fourth week of our non-traditional season, was a short one as Thursday and Friday were school Easter Break holidays.

Monday and Wednesday were indoor sessions. The head coach was away getting ready to have her first child, so I ran both. Our focus this week was on the things we highlight during our video session the prior week. Namely, we want to continue relentless defense and improve our seam play. We also want more discipline in our individual blocking so we can better play around it. In large part that means line blockers not reaching out toward the pins.

Both days of practice were heavily game-play oriented, especially small-sided games. We did a serve and pass game focused on the servers attacking seams. We played different types of 3s, and we played 5 v 5 and 4 v 5 variations of different sorts. My feedback concentrated on our focus points throughout.

On Tuesday we were on the sand once more. The head coach’s sister ran both the small groups as a guest coach. She coaches beach at both the college and club level in Southern California. Much of the focus was on shots. Mainly that came from game play.

Away from the court there was lots of admin work to do. Our other assistant was hustling to get recruit visits scheduled while we still have the opportunity for them to work out with the team during practice. I spent much of my time on the Argentina trip planning.

We spent the weekend recruiting at the Lone Star national qualifying tournament. That’s our biggest one of the year. It was two days of bouncing around from court to court to court evaluating dozens of different players. Our focus was 2018, though we did look at a handful of 2019s.

Coaching Log – April 10, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Three of our five “non-traditional season” weeks done. Two more to go from here.

Recruiting

We had 2018 recruits on campus for both our Monday and Wednesday practices. They were all hitters, which is nice since we have so few in the squad at the moment. No recruiting trips this week, but of course we continued to receive plenty of prospect emails.

In terms of 2017, we still want to add one more attacking player – an older MB or OPP. As it turns out, we may have found one in our own backyard. We’ve had some positive conversations and hope to get a commitment shortly.

Team Training

Monday and Wednesday were once more team indoor training sessions. Both followed a similar pattern to the ones I outlined in my last couple of updates. By that I mean some ball-handling, serving, and passing in the first phase, but then lots of game play after that. The primary focus remains on the defensive side of the game, as well as developing player communication and problem-solving. I once again rain Wednesday’s session.

Tuesday and Thursday continued our beach training. As in prior weeks, Tuesday’s training was in small groups and heavily focused on ball-handling, while Thursday was all doubles play.

We replaced Friday practice with a video session from last week’s tournament. First and foremost, we wanted to let the team see themselves in action. It gave us a chance to reinforce things we have been working on all Spring. Second, it gave some heavy legs a break.

Other Stuff

As always, there’s plenty of other stuff going on. We continue to work on the planning and fund raising for our prospective Argentina trip. The end of the school year is rapidly approaching, which means events like the annual sports banquet. We had to submit award nominees for that. There was some tedious online training we all had to do. The assistant coaches had their monthly meeting with the Athletic Director and the other senior administrators.